'My heart is in Arlington': What Memorial Day means to one Gold Star family
Vikki and Mark Pier used to regularly travel to Arlington National Cemetery to visit their son's final resting place. But due to health issues, they have been unable to visit for the past four years.
For many years, Vikki and Mark Pier would come during Memorial Day weekend to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where they would visit the final resting place of their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Noah Miles Pier, who was killed on Feb. 16, 2010, while fighting in Afghanistan.
The Piers said they had no words to describe how they felt when they found out Noah was killed. Beyond heartbroken or devastated, they said. But when Marine Corps officials asked where they would like to bury their son, they knew exactly where: Arlington.
"Mark and I both didn't hesitate when choosing that that was the most fitting place for Noah to be because he did love history," Vikki said. "They said he could be buried in Arlington, or a cemetery of our choice, and we just chose Arlington because, you know, he was from there," Mark added.
Noah spent the first 11 years of his life in Fairfax, Va., just 18 miles away from the cemetery, before the family moved to Charlotte, N.C. Mark and Vikki said Noah was fascinated by American history as a kid. He also had an unquenchable thirst for adventure and love for the outdoors. Those attributes combined with a long family history of military service — Noah had always dreamed of joining the Marine Corps.
The Piers made the six-hour drive from Charlotte to Arlington every few months after burying Noah, including over Memorial Day weekend, Mark and Vikki said. They would set up chairs and sit at his grave for hours, remembering and reflecting. Vikki was always hesitant when it came time to leave.
"Mark said something to me that I just say as kind of a mantra now, 'Vikki, you'll never have enough time. There will never be enough time.' Because it just kept feeling like I needed more. I need more," Vikki said. "It's somewhere that's a good place to go, open our chairs and sit. Then it's very hard to leave."
Mark and Vikki decided to move with their four youngest children less than a year after Noah's death. They moved to a small town about an hour west of Charlotte, keeping up with regular trips to Arlington for several years.
But the Piers became plagued by a series of health issues, which made traveling to Arlington more difficult. Knowing they couldn't see Noah's grave as often as they wished, Mark erected a memorial on their property. And in recent years, the Piers family — all nine children and 12 grandchildren — have gathered at Mark and Vikki's on Memorial Day.
They don't see it as a holiday or an event to be celebrated, but more of a day of reflection. They hang the American flag high and write letters to Noah on red balloons. They play games with the kids and cook up some of Noah's favorite foods and share stories.
"Memorial Day isn't a day to be celebrated," Mark said. "But we do come together as a family," Vikki added.
It's been four years since they last visited Noah's grave in Arlington.
It pains Mark and Vikki to have been away from the cemetery for so long. But they know they will go back as soon as possible. Vikki said she hopes that she and Mark can manage to make the journey for Noah's birthday on July 28; he would have turned 38 this year.
"It breaks my heart," Vikki said. "My heart is in Arlington. It is. I'm not physically there, but I do wish I could go and just touch the ground and sit with him."
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